D&D, Dungeons & Dragons, that historic pen and paper RPG has got a lot to answer for. Whilst it set the standard for RPGs it also forged a template – a template predicated on linear advancement: go kill ‘stuff’ and by doing so got more powerful allowing you to kill bigger ‘stuff’ and so on and so forth for all eternity.
And thus the grind was born.
EVE Online, however broke the mould of this template when CCP introduced its unique skill system, one based upon training over time – not through the unfortunate death of rats and kobolds. The reason why the skill training system is so important to EVE is that, in theory, it allows players to quickly reach equivalent levels of skill. It is (given the same amount of training time) possible that a new player can be as proficient in flying a Frigate as say a veteran player. In short there are skill ceilings.
Where CCP diverged from this concept we can readily see some problems. Powerful vessels such as capital and super capital class vessels really do require a large investment in time spent with EVE. We can readily see this as a valid reward for those veterans who have remained with EVE for so long – a clear degree of superiority over newer players. But even these leviathans of space have theoretical ceilings and (increasingly as EVEs population ages) more and more players are coming into the stage where the capital/super capital is well within their capability to use.
The next ‘speed bump’ for player progression (in the traditional sense) is ISK, or rather the availability of it. In theory I can pilot a dreadnought – I cannot however afford one. Herein lies the grind for ISK, and the source of whatever angst exists about whether game play X gets more ISK than gameplay Y. The implication being of course that if you want to progress in EVE you need to be rich.
This situation is not, however, unrecoverable. What is needed is a broadening of EVEs skills – essentially more areas of specialisation that the typical pilot can sink their teeth into. Critically these specialisations need to feel as rewarding and on a par with the traditional reward of ‘bigger ship = more powerful’. Planetary Interaction I had hoped would offer such a system – the capacity to sink skill training time and investment into the management of whole world economies and societies; a symbol of status ‘you may own a Titan but I rule over these planets’. Even the much maligned WiS proffered the chance that again the veteran of EVE could turn their machinations towards the conquest of inner space – the station environment; corporate barons who managed the stores, bars and facilities of an entire star base. Again it looks as if this opportunity has been squandered.
Perhaps DUST, and its intended links through EVEs wider economy will provide an outlet for the veteran players – a bauble to distract those from the currently inevitable march towards the mundaneness of capital vessels – it is theoretically possible that EVEs players will sink ISK into the prosecution of war on land whilst remaining removed themselves from the squalid business of ‘running and shooting’. Whilst I will watch the forthcoming FanFest preview of DUST and no doubt be interested in the FPS aspects for me it is the wider question of what DUST means to the New Eden cluster, its politics and economics that will really draw my attention.